Sex differences in risk seeking behaviour, emergency hospital admissions, and mortality are well documented. However, little is known about sex differences in idiotic risk taking behaviour. This paper reviews the data on winners of the Darwin Award over a 20 year period (1995-2014). Winners of the Darwin Award must eliminate themselves from the gene pool in such an idiotic manner that their action ensures one less idiot will survive. This paper reports a marked sex difference in Darwin Award winners: males are significantly more likely to receive the award than females (P<0.0001). We discuss some of the reasons for this difference.
File under "Settled Science".
From the paper:
However, there is a class of risk—the “idiotic” risk—that is qualitatively different from those associated with, say, contact sports or adventure pursuits such as parachuting. Idiotic risks are defined as senseless risks, where the apparent payoff is negligible or non-existent, and the outcome is often extremely negative and often final.I liked this clarification of methods.
According to “male idiot theory” (MIT) many of the differences in risk seeking behaviour, emergency department admissions, and mortality may be explained by the observation that men are idiots and idiots do stupid things.16 There are anecdotal data supporting MIT, but to date there has been no systematic analysis of sex differences in idiotic risk taking behaviour. In this paper we present evidence in support of this hypothesis using data on idiotic behaviours demonstrated by winners of the Darwin Award.
To qualify, nominees must improve the gene pool by eliminating themselves from the human race using astonishingly stupid methods. Northcutt cites a number of worthy candidates. These include the thief attempting to purloin a steel hawser from a lift shaft, who unbolted the hawser while standing in the lift, which then plummeted to the ground, killing its occupant; the man stealing a ride home by hitching a shopping trolley to the back of a train, only to be dragged two miles to his death before the train was able to stop; and the terrorist who posted a letter bomb with insufficient postage stamps and who, on its return, unthinkingly opened his own letter.Not just everyone makes the grade. There are honorable mentions who are not included in the study.
We reviewed all Darwin Award nominations, noting the sex of the winner. Our analysis included only confirmed accounts verified by the Darwin Awards Committee. Urban legends and unverified accounts were excluded. Honourable mentions—worthy examples of idiotic behaviour not resulting in elimination from the gene pool—were also excluded from the analysis. Examples include the man who slipped when using a belt sander as an auto-erotic device and lost a testicle. Repairing his scrotum with a staple gun, he was able to salvage his remaining testicle thus failing to eliminate himself completely from the gene pool.Based on the results of this robust methodology, the conclusion is clear - Male Idiot Theory has strong empirical supporting evidence.
Of the 413 Darwin Award nominations, 332 were independently verified and confirmed by the Darwin Awards Committee. Of these, 14 were shared by male and female nominees—usually overly adventurous couples in compromising positions—leaving 318 valid cases for statistical testing. Of these 318 cases, 282 Darwin Awards were awarded to males and just 36 awards given to females. There is a marked sex difference in Darwin Award winners (see figure⇓). Males thus made up 88.7% of Darwin Award winners, and this sex difference is highly statistically significant (χ2=190.30; P<0.0001).
As good scientists, the researchers note the limitations of their study.
However, this study has limitations. One of the weaknesses is the retrospective nature of the data collection. One alternative explanation for the marked sex difference in Darwin Award winners is that there is some kind of selection bias. Women may be more likely to nominate men for a Darwin Award, or there may be some selection bias within the Darwin Awards Committee. In addition, there may be some kind of reporting bias. Idiotic male candidates may be more newsworthy than idiotic female Darwin Award candidates.They conclude:
While MIT provides a parsimonious explanation of differences in idiotic behaviour and may underlie sex differences in other risk seeking behaviours, it is puzzling that males are willing to take such unnecessary risks—simply as a rite of passage, in pursuit of male social esteem, or solely in exchange for “bragging rights.” Northcutt invokes a group selectionist, “survival of the species” argument, with individuals selflessly removing themselves from the gene pool. We believe this view to be flawed, but we do think this phenomenon probably deserves an evolutionary explanation. Presumably, idiotic behaviour confers some, as yet unidentified, selective advantage on those who do not become its casualties. Until MIT gives us a full and satisfactory explanation of idiotic male behaviour, hospital emergency departments will continue to pick up the pieces, often literally.I find it hard to believe that the researchers failed to illustrate their results with compelling video evidence.
Why women live longer than men.
And what about this documentary video from an anthropological field study of male behavior in upper education circa 1978?
Double click to enlarge.
Bluto's Big Speech
from Animal House
Bluto: Hey! What's all this laying around shit?
Stork: What the hell are we supposed to do, ya moron?
D-Day: [to Bluto] War's over, man. Wormer dropped the big one.
Bluto: What? Over? Did you say "over"? Nothing is over until we decide it is! Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor? Hell no!
Otter: [to Boon] Germans?
Boon: Forget it, he's rolling.
Bluto: And it ain't over now. 'Cause when the goin' gets tough...
[thinks hard of something to say]
Bluto: The tough get goin'! Who's with me? Let's go!
[Bluto runs out, alone; then returns]
Bluto: What the fuck happened to the Delta I used to know? Where's the spirit? Where's the guts, huh? This could be the greatest night of our lives, but you're gonna let it be the worst. "Ooh, we're afraid to go with you Bluto, we might get in trouble." Well just kiss my ass from now on! Not me! I'm not gonna take this. Wormer, he's a dead man! Marmalard, dead! Niedermeyer...
Otter: Dead! Bluto's right. Psychotic... but absolutely right. We gotta take these bastards. Now we could do it with conventional weapons, but that could take years and cost millions of lives. No, I think we have to go all out. I think that this situation absolutely requires a really futile and stupid gesture be done on somebody's part!
Bluto: We're just the guys to do it.
D-Day: [stands up]
Boon: [stands up] Let's do it.
Bluto: [shouting] "Let's do it"!